So why am I so embarrassed to tell people that I'm a musician?
But why am I ashamed?
And, finally, in the words of Joseph Conrad; "The Kickstarters. Oh the Kickstarters."
A couple years ago I watched a Marcus Miller concert video and, I remember it like it was yesterday, was distraught. I could never hope to play the bass like Marcus (in fact, I'd be surprised if ANYONE did again). I could practice all I wanted, till my fingers bled, and I still wouldn't be the best bassist alive.
That's ok. Deep breaths. Deeeeeep breaaaaaaaths.
While I can't be the world's best bassist, I sure as HELL can be the most organized. I may never slap and pop like Les, but I can respond to emails better than he can! I might not have the mystical edge of Victor, but I can return phone calls as well as him (or anyone). I may never be as intensely fun as Flea, but our iCalendars can be equally as organized. In fact, with just a small amount of effort, I bet mine can even be better.
See what I'm driving at?
The facts are that most musicians out there suck at these elements ever-important yet oft-neglected elements of doing ANYTHING, especially music. Music is commonly referred to a conversation in the vibration language, yet we often forget about all the influences of this conversation in question. Musicians have a truly hard time realizing that their musical life and their regular life not only influence each other greatly, but that they are in fact the SAME life.
A lot of musicians I know can belt a vocal that soars majestically with the eagles (not the Don Henley type), yet they cannot hit reply to an email. They can hit the shed with a metronome and practice an intense scale run for hours, yet they won't return a phone call for 3 days. And I know that they aren't just ignoring me.
A large goal of this year for me is to lead by example. I cannot change anyone else in the world's musical community, but I can easily inspire them to see the light of hard work and organization. Think about it; if you value your time, wouldn't you value other peoples' time too? Don't answer that. You know the right answer. And being honest with yourself is what this life is all about.
Below I have compiled 10 organizational techniques for musicians that I have learned and employed to great use over the years. These are mainly with regards to administrative tactics that should help musicians become better communicators and organizers of their own time and the time of others.
As musicians we are ambassadors of music; this means a large part of what we should be about is inspiring virtue throughout the universe from man to man, man to beast, and man to himself. This dense sentence is short enough that it should always be on your mind with regards to the influence of your musical actions. The things you do and the behavior you have is important; so treat it as such.
But remember regarding good advice; you can take it as far as you'd like; you can feel good after you read it and you can be good natured about it. But if you don't work hard to change yourself, one day at a time, then you are just making me embarrassed to tell girls what my job is. So I hate you. Please quit playing music. Please quit. Please quit. Please quit. Please quit. Please quit. We don't need you or want you. NO ONE DOES. PLEASE QUIT!
But let's be positive. Here are some tips. A lot of these aren't even very good tips, but just simple reminders to the importance of being organized and communicating well. If you value those qualities in your music or in others, then you should strive to have them stronger within yourself. It is that simple. Changing yourself is more about manageable steps, than anything, so take your time on these. But please, even if its an uphill battle and you must trudge along slowly, just keep moving forward.
I'd love for y'all to share any tips you might have as well. I'm always looking for ways to improve.
1. Establish Office Hours
This was a huge realization for me when I used to be bad at communicating/organizing. I told the people I was working with that the best time to contact me would be between the hours of 4-7 MWF. Kind of a silly idea, and I definitely stole it from all my lazy professors in college, but you know what? It worked! Just having to be on top of my communication mediums for a few hours a week didn't seem too daunting of a task, and it wasn't. Predictably I was better at communicating during all hours just by focusing on being REALLY good at it during those few.
2. MAN UP
I had to include this all caps entry because a huge part of breaking bad habits is about willpower. It's about demolishing that which you do not like about your instincts establishing good ones in their place. Nevertheless, this is impossible unless you MAN (or WOMAN) UP. We know when we are being bad communicators, I have to believe, so change it when you see it. Be as accountable in this vein of your life as you would be when it comes to learning chords for a gig.
3. One Medium At A Time
An excuse I use to tell myself and others was "I'm not attached to my phone; there are so many means of communicating it is overwhelming these days." There is veiled truth within this statement; there are so many means of communicating and it can be overwhelming, but that isn't an excuse; its an opportunity to rise about the pack!
A technigue that really helped me was to isolate the mediums of communication and tackle one at a time, per week, for a whole month. The goal is to start with one and be truly diligent, then add the next medium the following week ad nasuem. For example, for the first week of the month I will be diligent about returning phone calls within a 2 hour time frame. The following week I will be diligent about returning phone calls within a 2 hour time frame and in addition I will be diligent about responding to text messages within a 2 hour time frame. Then add email. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I'd like to challenge all my musician friends reading this blog to take one medium at a time, per week, in the upcoming month of November. I will do the same. Also that quip about not being attached to your phone? It's a total lie to yourself isn't it? You are probably reading this on your phone right now when you should be responding to an email! Which brings me to my next point...
4. Evaluate Your Progress; Be Honest With Yourself
As musicians we are constantly in view of other people's judgement. Though the judgement of most should not effect your behavior, you should be judging yourself constantly. There doesn't have to be any sort of bias towards the negative or the positive; just try and look at yourself as objectively as you can and react with a focus on betterment. With this technique, the facts of the situation become your judgement, which is as liberating for some as it is imprisoning for others.
I have pledged to turn Sundays into my Administrative Evaluation day. Once a week I will spend around 20 minutes looking at how I communicated in the past week; how I organized my time, etc. I will evaluate my efficiency and I will make improvements. I would urge you reader to do the same.
There are undeniable benefits to this self evaluation method in all aspects of your life, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the emotional benefits to this exercise. You know that stereotypical image of a musician we discussed earlier? He is a poser. He cannot live an original life despite the fact that he thinks and believes that no one else is living an original life.
How can we ask ourselves to live ANY sort of life, original or borrowed, without truly examining the steps that we are taking every day? If a person spends time outside of himself thinking about himself (and not just feeling bad about himself. or feeling good), then he or she will become a more virtuous person in all aspects.
And that will totally influence some badass bass playing.
Nothing too fancy here, but using Whiteboards can be a super effective organizational tool. Place the board in a place where you often are. Even better, place the Whiteboard in a place where you love to avoid work or be a piece of crap. Write whatever you want on it, but make sure it inspires productivity. Although nonmusical, I'm trying to stop drinking beer for a whole month (if you can't tell, I'd really like to have a girlfriend!), so here is what my whiteboard says.
But we can write anything on our whiteboards; whatever you NEED to work on should take priority. For example; if you have a hard time remembering to practice (Ummmm. What? I know this is a real thing, but still very shocked), write down what you are going to practice and what time of day on your Whiteboard. I guarantee you will be guilted like that whiteboard is a Jewish Mother asking you about your flu shot. Another example; if you have a hard time with communicating, write 3 priority emails or phone calls per day on the whiteboard. You'll do them.
Sure, guilt isn't the purest motivation for practicing, but I have to say, some of us are very beyond pure motivations at this point. I am highly motivated by revenge, for example.
6. Utilize Spare Minutes
Most "musicians" I know are bums. I am including myself in this category, somewhat.
A lot of times we don't have jobs; we don't have kids. We don't have that many responsibilities. As such, we have large chunks of free time.
But I empathize with the musician who does work a full time job and does have kids and does have responsibilities. You don't have large chunks of free time. Fortunately for you this technique isn't about large chunks of free time.
We all have a ridiculous amount of spare minutes and seconds throughout the day. Even in doing research for this blog post I found the time to respond to THREE(3) emails about playing the bass.
We most notice all the aimless waiting that goes on in our lives. They say being in the entertainment industry is all hurry up then wait. And they are right.
But while they are all waiting around, we can be working. We can use those spare minutes to catch up on emails; we can use those spare moments to listen to a song that I need to chart out eventually. We can listen to records we need to learn whilst sitting in traffic. We can use an ear training app while we wait for the bus. By chipping away at small tasks while we are in activity purgatory, we can make more time for the big tasks. Or, and this is the best part, we can make more time for ourselves and our friends. Yippie!
For a group of people who's livelihood depends on their ability to understand how to influence time, we sure seem to not understand time at all outside of a musical context. Or do we know how and we are just lazy? Again, don't answer.
7. The People You Work With Are People
The people that you work with on music aren't just instruments. They aren't MIDI keyboards and they aren't a rotating Leslie speaker. They aren't plugins and they aren't a quantize tool.
When you are collaborating with another person, you put aside who you are and they put aside who they are. Together you become an entity; maybe this entity doesn't last forever, but that is irrelevant. It can even be an entity just for one evening. Such is the nature of collaboration.
But when we work with someone, we must always realize that they are living and breathing flesh with feelings, much like ourselves (or really exactly like ourselves). When we don't value their time and effort, we make a big mistake that resonates in our playing in a way that might be hard to pinpoint but is glaring to the world. There is no other way to put and we all know it.
Conversely this applies to having patience with people who aren't organized or aren't good communicators. Maybe they are none of these things, but they are still children of the earth, and it is life's greatest pleasure to improve humanity. It is the only true pleasure.
This empathy, if fostered, will spill over into your playing. And it will keep spilling wine over and over the brim of the cup onto the table. And then it will keep spilling over and over the edge of the table into the cracks on the floor, etc. It will get the whole world white-girl wasted.
Be organized, empathetic, and virtuous in life and it shall be a part of your music without effort.
8. Know When You Are At Your Best
We all have a time of day when we are at our most productive. Mine is absolutely in the morning, probably stretching between 9am-2PM. Determine yours, please, and harness this knowledge towards the necessary actions! Use this time, when your energy is at its peak, to accomplish the arduous tasks that may have crept up. Maybe put your office hours within this time frame.
Likewise find your least productive time of day and use this time to accomplish some of the less mindful daily tasks, such as cleaning your practice/work space. Which of course funnels us into technique number...
9. Keep a Clean Work Space (The Myth of Controlled Chaos is Bullshit and You Know It)
I often hear people say of their disastrous workspaces "I get my system. It's messy but I understand it."
How deplorable would this action seem if taken out of the context of a creative environment? I'm not sure how us creative types have perpetuated this myth, but I can't help but believe the myth of controlled chaos was created by a very organized individual who felt he had learned a key secret to success and selfishly did not want to share.
If we wish to work with others, then we must be willing to have a clean space or admit that we are less of a good collaborator than the one team player we could be. It's that simple.
Again, manageable steps is the key here. When it comes to cleaning, I employ what I can a 2 minute rule. If something in my workspace or email inbox etc can be cleaned in 2 minutes, then it MUST be accomplished. For larger cleaner tasks in our space, designate 20 minutes one day a week to tidy up.
This also applies to keeping a clean email inbox as well as a clean and organized calendar. If musicians aren't using their calendars religiously, they'll get doubled booked if they are any good. And that is not good at all.
10. Remember The Goal
Hopefully your goal as a musician is to make music. A whole other blog should be reserved for the posers who simply wish to glean fame or notoriety thru the veritable kidnapping of vibrations, and they just see music as the viable option. These people will never get it. And they are everywhere. But again, that's something that would take a lot more discussing and, for me at least, a lot of deliberating, for I hardly consider these bona fide fools as inspirational contemporaries.
But the main goal of being a musician is to play music. Simple and beautiful. Always remember that these organizational and communicatory techniques and tips are simply to grease the wheels of musical creation and true fulfillment. If we are fully organized and prompt about communicating, then when its time to play music, it is ONLY time to play music. And how wonderful is that?
Thanks for sticking through this. If you read this far, I hope you heed my words and find these techniques helpful. But even if all my words do is inspire personal growth in ANY way, then I will have succeeded.
I must admit that part of the reason I wrote this was to make myself more accountable. And I'm off to do that for a month. Do it with me! I would love to have a discourse with any of you about these facts. I will do anything it takes so that I can be proud of who we are as ambassadors of music and virtue.
My office hours are MWF 9am-2PM,
Benjamin Ryan Williams